A Burn-the-Ships Mentality

I listened to an investor and founder give his thoughts on what it takes to win and how he identifies winners. He described how he evaluated one of his most profitable investments: Uber. When he invested in the company early, he was betting on the founder, Travis Kalanick. Travis was intense and had what this investor calls a “burn-the-ships” mentality.

During wartime, when ships arrived at an enemy’s shore, the generals instructed the troops to burn their own ships once everyone had disembarked. The only way the troops would go home, they were told, was by taking the enemy’s ships. There was no turning back—winning was the only option.

I’d never heard an investor describe a founder in this way before, so it stuck with me. I’m all about backing founders who have a drive to win, but I’m not sure that a “burn-the-ships” mentality is a necessary or even good thing. I don’t know enough about Travis or the early Uber story to talk about them. I do believe, though, that there are ways to motivate your team to win without burning the ships.